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Is a gap year bad for your career?

Some employers may view gap years as indulgent and unnecessary, no longer regarded as a universal good

In the UK, the tide has begun to turn against the ever popular ‘gap year’.  There was a time when society deemed this free time to be within us all, as an essential soul-searching life experience.  However, this mind set is changing with the introduction of characters such as Matt Lacey’s YouTube smash Gap Yah skit and Jack Whitehall’s Fresh Meat character, JP.

The stereotyping is lived up to by real-life Gap Year adventurers as Jordan Jacobs. In December, the 21-year-old sparked an international manhunt and a social media frenzy after implying to his family that he had been kidnapped on the Thai island of Ko Do Phi Don, before emerging, five days later, with the sheepish admission that he had simply been “having a bit too much fun”.

As student debts have mounted, the percentage of Ucas applicants deferring by a year slipped from 7.9% in 2002 to 5.4% in 2015. Boris Johnson’s daughter, Lara Johnson-Wheeler, even wrote a piece in the Spectator explaining why she wouldn’t be taking a year out, before trooping diligently off to St Andrew’s.

Sir Martin Sorrell, Head of WPP, the world’s most successful marketing firm, has given his thoughts on the notion of why spending several thousand pounds to send a kid from Surrey to build a mud hut in Malawi is a good investment.

At the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai, Sorrell said that he didn’t believe a travelling gap year was an advantage for anyone’s career prospects. “Gap years tend to be ill-organised and ill-directed and more a serendipity,” he warned. “Companies don’t find them enough time [to do something useful].”  He suggested instead that youngsters learn “computer code and Mandarin.”

In June last year, leading City lawyer Sandie Okoro received press coverage when she told an audience at the Girls’ Day School Trust conference that graduate recruiters were more likely to be impressed by work experience at a local UK firm instead of the usual travel experiences.

Yet Sorrell did admit that his gap year was a good experience, mostly spent working in a TV shop in Harlesden and must have had some influence on his rise to the top of a company with 190,000 employees.

So, is the way forward for the Gap Year simply a rethink?

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